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Progressives gain in Salem-Keizer School Board race
Results represent solid rebuke of far-right ideology in schools
The Salem-Keizer School Board will look a little more progressive, based on May 16 election results. Results are still unofficial, but here’s how things look to be shaping up:
Cynthia Richardson beats Casity Troutt in Zone #2. This is the seat previously held by Marty Heyen, so this is a +1 pickup for progressives.
Krissy Hudson beats Larry Scruggs in Zone #6. This seat was previously held by Danielle Bethell, so it remains far-right and represents no change for this Director’s seat.
The only incumbent in the race, Satya Chandragiri, is beating progressive candidate Kelley Strawn by around a percentage point in Zone #4. If that lead holds, Chandragiri retains his seat & represents no change.
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That represents an overall +1 gain for progressives on the school board, creating an even smaller minority position for far-right board members. Previously, far right folks held three seats on the Salem-Keizer School Board, and these unofficial election results suggest a new 5-2 split in favor of progressive candidates.
Three reasons that’s a big deal
Elections and the implications of their results are complex and often take time to play out, but it’s reasonable to pull a few main learnings from this Salem-Keizer School Board election.
Bigotry and hate lost big. Casity Troutt is a vocal anti-transgender activist and has tried to get books on diversity banned from public schools. Her candidacy was borne from those efforts. And her supporters worked hard to smear and degrade the only black woman in the entire race. Her campaign (and ideology) was a gross expression of fear and hate that was soundly rejected by our community. That’s a great signal.
Even if he wins, Chandragiri’s extremely slim margin is not a healthy signal for an incumbent. And that’s with Chandragiri maintaining a small squad of advisors & raising more money than any other candidate. Chandragiri’s political benefactors can’t be happy with their investment. When Chandragiri first won his board seat in 2021, he beat his opponent handily (by 5 points). Incumbents should have an easier time getting elected - especially someone like Chandragiri who jockeys for publicity and press coverage any chance he gets. Strawn, a complete newcomer to local politics, shouldn’t have even come close to Chandragiri in this election. But he nearly won. Why did Chandragiri struggle so badly, even with the incumbent advantage? See #1.
The far-right machine spent a lot of time, money & resources on these races. From an investment standpoint, that effort did not pay off. That makes future investments less attractive. Maybe not for craven political interlopers like Oregon Right To Life. But for the second-tier players like Larry Tokarski (co-owner of the Salem Reporter), maybe they don’t splash the pot next time in favor of far-right extremists? I mean, all that money and effort to lose a seat and tip the board 5-2 towards a clear progressive mandate…seems like a losing cause.
Speaking of this new progressive mandate in Salem-Keizer…
With Chandragiri and Hudson pairing up as the ineffective (former) & inexperienced (latter) minority far-right position on the board, it’s clear progressives in Salem-Keizer have handed the 5-member majority group a mandate:
Improve education quality & outcomes
Create and advance policies that create safe and productive schooling environment for ALL students
Support the administration in giving teachers what they need to do their jobs
Reject efforts to integrate bigotry and hate into public school education
Clearly, public schools across the country are still struggling to gain solid footing after the disruption during the pandemic and public health crisis period of time. And that’s in addition to the coordinated efforts locally by far right groups like SK We Stand Together, Oregon Mom’s Union, and others to corrupt local school boards with regressive, christofascist views & values.
Despite the challenges, it feels like we have a real opportunity in Salem-Keizer. A new superintendent. A new board with a clear progressive mandate. A decisive rejection of corrosive efforts to inspire hate and fear from far-right extremists (not that they’ll magically go away).
So, what next?
We hold the incoming board accountable. It doesn’t matter if we find ourselves on the same ideological page, we gotta press them to stay honest.
Also, there’s a whole swath of community institutions & entities that publicly supported far-right extremist Casity Troutt. Business leaders; elected officials, chambers of commerce…it’s honestly shocking the extent our community will support someone who is proudly anti-LGBTQ+; proudly works to ban books and censor ideas she doesn’t like; and proudly works to elevate hate and disinformation in our community.
We’ll follow-up on this in more depth, but for example - businesses in Keizer should know that not only did the Keizer Chamber endorse Troutt, but so did the chamber’s director. If I were a business in Keizer (that doesn’t openly enjoy supporting hate and fear)...I’d probably rethink my membership in that organization and what my membership dues actually support.
School board election results across Oregon are similarly positive
As the dust settles across dozens and dozens of school board races across Oregon, it’s also clear that voters all over the state rejected the attempted far-right takeovers of various school boards.
More locally, voters in Newberg appear to have shown the entire far-right school board the door.
It’s not a coincidence that folks across Oregon are rejecting this coordinated targeting of public schools. If Salem-Keizer voters gave our board a progressive mandate with this election, then Oregon as a whole is signaling that we’re ready to move on from the influence and distraction of the shrinking bubble of far-right clownery.
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